Processed junk food contains dangerous bacterial molecules that can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes, a new study has revealed.
A team of researchers at the University of Leicester discovered that junk foods, as well as seemingly healthy processed options such as ready prepared vegetables and pasta sauces, contain molecules known as pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPs).
It is believed that these grow as the food is being manufactured and refrigerated before being transported to suppliers.
As an example, a fillet steak would be low in PAMPs, while minced steak mince has high levels. Similarly a whole onion is low in PAMPs, but a pack of pre-prepared chopped onions is high.
For their study, lead researcher Dr Clett Erridge and his team looked at a group of volunteers who stuck to a diet of foods low in PAMPs for an entire week.
Three major factors were noted – their white blood count was reduced, their bad cholesterol levels were reduced and they lost an average of 1.3lbs in weight.
White blood cells work to protect the body from diseases. If a high white blood count is noted, it can indicate health problems such as an infection, allergy, inflammation, allergy or another issue. When sticking to the low PAMP diet, the volunteers’ white blood counts were reduced by 11 per cent.
One of the most significant findings was that the volunteers’ levels of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol were reduced by 18 per cent. If the group continued on the low PAMP diet, the reductions in cholesterol levels would mean their risk of suffering from coronary artery diseases in the future would drop by over 40 per cent.
Volunteers also lost weight during the week-long diet and an average of 1.5cm from their waistlines – meaning that once again their risk of type 2 diabetes dropped by more than 15 per cent.
When the scientists gave the volunteers a high PAMP diet to follow, they found these benefits were completely reversed – showing the danger of the molecules.
Dr Erridge and his team are now hoping that food manufacturers will test the levels of PAMPs throughout their manufacturing process, thereby finding out at which point the molecules enter the food, like which machines or materials could be introducing them.
Removing the PAMPs from foods could help make them healthier without adversely affecting the taste or texture, as well as the cost or ingredients of preparing the food.